Yet Another Coded Discussion of Race.

Brendan Nyhan is one of the few left-leaning bloggers I read; he's occasionally willing to call a foul when someone on his side goes overboard. But he recently went off the deep end himself, seeing the veiled specter of racism in the comments of one Karl Rove.

Karl Rove is again pushing the suggestion that Barack Obama is lazy, a claim that connotes ugly racial stereotypes about African Americans.
What was Rove's sin this time? It occurs in a WSJ op-ed from a couple days back.

Mr. Obama, on the other hand, needs to reassure Americans he is up to the job. Voters recognize he represents change, yet they are unsettled. Does he have the experience to be president? There are growing concerns, which the McCain campaign has tapped, that Mr. Obama is an inexperienced celebrity-politician smitten with his own press clippings.

And is there really a "there" there? Besides withdrawing from Iraq, it's not clear what issues are really important to him. Does he do his homework or is he intellectually lazy? Is there an issue on which he would do the unpopular thing or break with party orthodoxy? Is his candidacy about important answers or simply about us being the "change we've been waiting for"? Substance will help diminish concerns about his heft and fitness for the job.

Nyhan also quotes previous Rovian utterances that bring up the 'lazy' criticism. But (importantly, in my view), Rove has also provided examples of (possible) symptoms of such (alleged) laziness: "present" votes, relying on charm over substance, vague answers to specific questions, etc.

There's no indication that Rove is trying to fan racist flames here. One could easily see him making the same criticism of a white Democrat. (And certainly enough Democrats have said it about Dubya.) For someone like Nyhan, who regularly decries the tactic of "mind-reading" one's opponents to discover the true motivation behind their words, this is pretty lame.

If you really do think Obama is intellectually lazy, that ought to be an arguable point, not easily dismissed by crying "racism!"

It appears we're in for a few months where all communications concerning Obama will be analyzed for subtle hidden meanings and veiled slurs. Recent examples:

  • Someone called Obama skinny. Racist!

  • A whole bunch of people called Obama "articulate". Yes, even compliments can be racist, Senator Biden. You too, President Bush. And, sorry, Karl Rove: you can't win.

  • And it's not just words, but also symbols: specifically phallic symbols. To be safe, no GOP ad had better have any pictures of anything longer than it is wide.

  • And let's not forget the whole Antichrist thing. (Fortunately, Snopes says that's false. Thank goodness for Snopes, otherwise I'd totally buy it.)

  • And someone has even gone out of their way to point out that Obama doesn't look like all the other presidents on dollar bills, a comment that a majority of voters see as racist.

    Wait… what?

    Ah, never mind.

When Saturday Night Live returns this fall, they'll have a tough time trying to parodize reality.

Rainbows End

[Amazon Link]

This book won the Hugo Award for best science-fiction novel last year, and it was well deserved. I don't read a lot of science fiction any more (I keep saying that, I know), but Vernor Vinge is on the very short list of authors I try to catch as new stuff appears.

The novel is set mostly in San Diego, just a couple of decades from now, but the technological changes have been stunning. Nearly everybody "wears": contact lenses, ear implants, and smart clothing allow you to experience a convincing virtual reality of choice overlaid on actual reality. Combined with ubiquitous networking, this allows personal interaction with people from around the world, as if they were actually present.

Cheap, sophisticated technology is available to bad guys too. The immediate threat is a YGBM ("You Gotta Believe Me") brainwashing weapon, spread through a combination of bioengineering and networking. In a nice libertarian touch, the mastermind of this plot is a would-be for-your-own-good social engineer.

A mysterious cyber-presence assembles a very unlikely team to thwart the evildoers; most of the team have no idea what's going on. Members include a once-famous poet recovering from Alzheimer's, his plucky granddaughter, and a well-meaning remedial classmate from the local vocational high school.

It's a pretty good read, probably better if you're familiar with San Diego and the UCSD campus, where a lot of the action occurs. I was there long ago, and was awestruck by the Geisel Library; it has a pivotal role here. To paraphrase Dr. Venkman from Ghostbusters: generally, you don't see that kind of behavior from a major library building.

By sheerest coincidence, John Tierney has a column and a blog post up about Vinge and Rainbows End today. (With a picture of the library, currently behaving.)


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:14 PM EDT

The Martian Child

[Amazon Link] [1.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

Back when I read a lot of science fiction, I read a bit of David Gerrold: When HARLIE Was One, The Man Who Folded Himself; he also had some involvement with Star Trek, most notably writing a pretty good episode of the Original Series, The Trouble With Tribbles. But that was long ago. This movie is based on one of his later works, and is loosely autobiographical. I would have probably skipped it, but Mrs. Salad is this huge John Cusack fan, so …

It's about a recently-widowed science fiction writer who decides to adopt a special-needs child. Specifically, a boy who is the oddest of balls, a lonely outcast who believes he's a Martian, only on Earth for a brief scouting mission.

Now, I'm the kind of philistine who sees this setup and thinks that it would be really neat if the kid were actually a Martian, which could be played out in any number of interesting ways, preferably with some gags based on his alien powers, also possibly explosions, spaceships, and other cool special effects.

But no such luck. Instead, the kid has some pretty serious psychological problems, which John Cusack attempts to deal with by endless amounts of platitudinous and sentimental dialogue and tedious heartstring-plucking. (Also predictable. He has a dog. I said, "That dog is doomed." About fifty minutes later: "See?")

So, an extra half-star for Gerrold, but otherwise, bleah.


Last Modified 2012-10-11 3:14 PM EDT